A few weeks ago Chris Pierce, the Director of the AA’s Visiting School Program, came for a meeting at the RCA to talk through the collaborative workshop that we’ll be holding over Easter as part of the construction phase of Project Lacey Green. The idea is that this will be the first of a series of annual workshops with students and young professionals interested in exploring the relationship between design, making and place. During the meeting we discussed the obvious connection between Grymsdyke Farm and Hooke Park, the AA’s rural campus in Dorset, and we headed there last Friday for a follow-up meeting with its Director Martin Self.

Hooke Park was developed in the late 80s by the Parnham Trust as a furniture school headed by John Makepeace.  The early buildings explored the innovative use of round-wood ‘thinnings’ – weak trees which are removed regularly felled as part of good forestry practice, in order to allow the remaining trees to grow tall and straight. This research is currently being continued at the Rural Studio by Andrew Freear (who was involved in the development of the Hooke Park master plan after it was acquired by the AA in 2000) and is something that I came across when I studied in Alabama as an Outreach student in 2009/10. The amazing workshop facilities at Hooke are available for units at the AA to use throughout term-time, when student/tutor groups can book out the residential lodge for a week or so at a time. I came on a couple of occasions as an AA student in Inter 2, and again in my 3rd year when I was involved in setting up a permaculture workshop in collaboration with Georgie Corry-Wright (who lives in Hooke with her husband Charlie, the workshop manager). The site is also home to the AA’s Design+Make programme, a 16-month post-graduate design-build masters course in architecture, which is currently focused on the construction of additional infrastructure for the campus.

On Friday Guan and I met with Georgie, Charlie and Martin over lunch in the refectory to talk about how a long-term collaboration between the two sites might work. We were joined in the afternoon by Alex de Rijke, the Dean of the RCA architecture department, who has been involved with juries for Hooke Park projects in the past, but had never had the opportunity to visit it in person. After a really interesting discussion, we agreed that the best strategy might be to run the Visiting School programme between Buckinghamshire and Dorset over the next four years: first two years at Grysmdyke, and the second two at Hooke – focusing on an exchange of materials, resources, ideas, and expertise. The material which is local to Grymsdyke and has been tested most extensively/experimentally there so far is clay (bricks); at Hooke it’s timber. This sets up a very focused area of structural and design research using clay and timber, and a super interesting exploration of the relationship between materials and place. In regards to the forthcoming Music Room for St. John’s, the idea is to source the timber for the structure from Hooke – so I’ll be heading back in late March for a few days to take part in, and document, the process of felling and preparing the timber for construction.

I really enjoyed the time I spent at Hooke Park in the past, and it’s exciting to have an opportunity to continue my involvement there in new ways. More info about the Easter RCA / AA Visiting School coming soon…